Thoreau in the Fresh Air

Students read Thoreau’s “Walking” during the final Seminar that focuses on the great writers and thinkers of the 19th and 20th centuries.Each time I’ve led the fourth Seminar, when we read Henry David Thoreau’s “Walking,” I’ve thought it rather silly to sit still and talk about walking. So each semester, the students and I keep a sharp eye on the weather as we approach that reading, and sometimes we have to juggle the readings, like we did this year. Despite the worrisome drought, the exact day on which “Walking” was scheduled, a storm was forecast, so we agreed to move the readings around (which might be breaking a Seminar rule), and the students were good about keeping up with the changes, which can be dangerous for class discussion.

Nevertheless, we waited for a break in the weather, agreed on a day to walk, reminded each other to wear shoes we don’t care about because we’d probably be in mud, and set off on a gorgeous sunny Thursday morning in mid-March. Students were also told to wear pants they didn’t mind getting dirty because we would hold discussion on the stage in the Redwood Grove.

As we walked in pairs, the students, with their books, reflected on Thoreau’s writing. We saw deer and turkeys (and Professor Doval’s Integral class bird watching); we noticed the different shades of green and the colors of the blooming wildflowers, and we smelled the fresh air, so clean after the rains.

Normally, we walk past the statue of Mary until we come to a paved road behind the campus, then return to the Redwood Grove to sit and discuss. But the morning was so glorious that we agreed to continue walking, providing we continued to talk about the text (always important to stay in the text), and we walked the entire 90 minutes, arriving on the Chapel lawn for the day’s “takeaway.” This is when students answer the question, “What do you know now that you didn’t know before?”

- Rebecca Carroll, Professor

Carroll is chair of the Management Department in the School of Economics and Business Administration.

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